It has been more than 22 weeks since I came to Nepal, the country of Never Ending Peace and Love and, although my love for this country is truly never ending, I am not so sure about the “peace” part.
I arrived on the doorstep of Volunteers Initiative Nepal, a medium sized local NGO based in Kathmandu, in September 2018, ready to take charge of the Organisational Development and Capacity Building file, and “improve the functioning of the organisation.” Little did I know, that an organisation, which up to date has more than 13 years of experience under its belt, combined with a turnover of more than 500 volunteers yearly, working on 7 diverse programmes for empowerment of marginalised communities in Jitpur Phedi, Kavresthali, Nuwakot and Okhaldhunga districts, coupled with the local Nepalese environment (in the broadest meaning of term possible), had their own plans for me.
After sailing through the first 11 weeks of desk research, browsing through community baseline surveys, staff reports, going through the organisation‘s strategic and annual plans, analysing research studies, individual programme budgets, old HR surveys, looking at staff job descriptions and carrying out in-depth staff and volunteer interviews, in December 2018, I finalised and proudly presented an independent study named “AN INVESTIGATION OF ORGANISATIONAL DEVELOPMENT AND CAPACITY BUILDING CHALLENGES FACED BY LOCAL NGO “VOLUNTEERS INITIATIVE NEPAL,” only to find out later, that it should be, more aptly, called “a narrow European outlook on what’s “wrong” with Nepali NGO sector.”
The reality is always much more complex than we expect. And I witnessed it first hand here, trying to nurture my “baby project” and clashing with Nepal, that was far from the peaceful images of Himalayan mountain tops, smiling children, blossoming rhododendrons and happy villagers, peddled by the tourists on social media.
Nepal I found was not-so-easy-on-the-eye, multilayered mess of struggling economics, underdeveloped infrastructure, complicated social and cultural relationships between ethnic groups, political parties and the Government, waste-chocked landscapes, thirst for transparency, limited access to public information, deep-rooted societal taboos, frequent gender inequality manifestations, widely accepted violence against children, large prevalence of illiteracy, difficulties in unlearning things, fluid (as in, “forever late”) Nepali-time concept.
Being an EU Aid volunteer, it is easy to, on many occasions, want to smash your forehead into the wall and fall at the battle lines of despair, overcome by difficulties in seeing immediate impact in the community and added value of your own work (which, if you are considering societal and behaviour changes, is often the case). Yet if my experience in this project taught me anything, it is this: You can change things as much, as you believe change is possible! You have to believe yourself, before you can help others on their way. And as long as you do not give up, change is possible. Every little bit helps, every little effort counts.
Recently, in the end of January 2019, I had a pleasure of organising an international Training & Networking Workcamp for a Network for Voluntary Development in Asia (NVDA), as well as moderating several working sessions for the participants of the meeting. Together with nearly two dozen Asian volunteer-based NGOs, we had a chance to exchange practices on community development, environment protection and other projects involving local and international volunteers, learn new strategic planning tools, and revisit the identity, vision and mission of the NVDA, as well as identify challenges of network members for follow up and joint work towards solutions for the upcoming months.
See, we – development workers, EUAVs, NGOs, – we are all struggling in similar ways, and in this, we are not alone.You do not have to cope alone. I do not have to work alone. We have European Commission, our sending organisations, our partners, and all EU Aid volunteers behind us. It is up to us now to show our hosting organizations and our communities that in their development journey they too are not alone!
And if I achieve this by the end of my project, I will be one proud project “momma!”